Costa Rica Experience
I knew since high school that I wanted to study abroad in college. I wanted my Spanish to make it to the next level, and I thought Costa Rica would be a great place. In Costa Rica I got to spend nine weeks living in a foreign country with a host family. For my STEP Signature Project I spent five weeks studying Spanish in Heredia, Costa Rica and then I spent four weeks volunteering in a nursing home.
When I was young, it drove me absolutely crazy when I heard people speaking foreign languages. It was my belief that if you are in “America” you should speak English. During high school I started taking Spanish classes and this opened my eyes to the beauty and culture of other languages. I realized that language is important because it helps people to communicate and express themselves. Furthering my Spanish education at Ohio State I learned that I never know the full story. There are people who are here working extremely hard because they believe that their kids deserve better and to me, that is noble. I learned that we should embrace cultures different than our own, because we can learn about them.
In Costa Rica, I was amazed how many people spoke English, and the general gratitude people had for me when I would try to speak Spanish. I am nowhere near fluent, but they appreciated my effort. That is the attitude I now try to carry in United States. People are not perfect. I am not perfect. I should not judge people based on their ability to speak my language. This experience really modified my view of the way that people operate under different languages.
Another thing that I came to realize what that my definition of “America” was dramatically different than the people of Costa Rica. To them, we were both Americans. I was from North America and they were from Central America. When I said “America” I meant the United States, they did not. I realized that I held an inflated view of my country. I lived in a bubble where “America” was my world; little did I know, it was also a lot of people’s worlds.
During my STEP Signature Project I had a lot of interactions that helped me to realize the beauty of language and of perception. My host family had very broken English, but I would always appreciate when the nephew would try to speak to me in my language. To me, it meant he cared. This helped me to realize that people do not expect perfection, just effort. I also was able to see that words are not necessary to communicate. Yes, I have heard this before, but working at a nursing home allowed me to see this lesson in action. One man could not even form sounds, but he loved to color and do puzzles. When I would walk in he would always wave at me and hold my hand. Physical touch was something a lot of these people did not get enough of anymore. A lot of them loved hugs, even when they did not have the words to communicate this.
Another valuable lesson I learned was the ability to learn through others. I was surrounded with a group of amazing people that quickly became my friends. I was able to learn from their interactions. For example, the “America” issue came to my attention when one of my friends asked the guy next to her if he was “American,” to which he replied, “We are ALL American.” That was a valuable lesson that I was able to learn from. Beyond their experiences in Costa Rica I was able to learn more about different walks of life in the States and different beliefs that people had. Going to a foreign country has a strange way to connect people, and I will forever be grateful for this opportunity.
One big take-away I had from this experience was the ability to slow down. Costa Ricans operate on “Tico Time” which means they are always late. They live by the “Pura Vida” motto, which means “pure life” or enjoy the ride. I come from the Chicago area where people live and die by the hustle and bustle. In Costa Rica, dining was an experience, people walked without haste. That was dramatically different to what I know and am accustomed to, yet being able to experience that slower pace of life was a great experience that I am very grateful for. I recognized that you are able to enjoy so much more in a given day if you are not constantly worried about what is next. Being able to embrace the day to day, was something I want to carry with me the rest of my life.
Whether it be people greeting me at a dance class that I took, or the way tour guides interacted with us, or our professors’ patience, the people definitely helped me to realize these lessons.
The lessons I learned about the value of culture and people in Costa Rica are definitely important in my life. From an academic perspective, I have a great opportunity to go to school. A lot of people do not get this, and as such I should be taking advantage of this. From a personal standpoint, I was reminded yet again that it is important for your health to slow down every once in a while. Life does not have to be a race and you should enjoy the people around you. After all, people are important. In Costa Rica I did a much better job than usual interacting with the people around me and this was great for the soul.
From a professional stand point, I learn a lot about the value of communication. Now, more than ever business is operating in a global world, and as such cross-cultural communication is imperative. This experience has allowed me to recognize some of the challenges of this, but also some of the great benefits. Language barriers make things hard, they also undeniably make communication more difficult. However, when you can overcome them and work with people to portray your thoughts great things come from them.
I am very grateful for STEP and the opportunity it provided me to challenge my ways of thinking and preconceived notions that I had.